“Elizabeth” was a surprise in 1998. Ushering in the splendid and outspoken career of Cate Blanchett, the film presented an old legend and made it a subtly modern and nuanced period picture, wrought with great drama.
“Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” the unexpected and surprisingly hyped follow-up, retains almost everything notable from the original: the style, the contemporary drama, the pomp and circumstance of a great period film. Too bad that’s it. “Golden Age” is nothing more than a series of loosely connected and well-decorated scenes, slapped together in hopes that adorers of the original will show up to see it.
They probably will. But what they’ll get is an awkwardly staged and carelessly speedy impression of a story. Told at a breathless pace, mashing together plot points that never quite amount to anything, this is the middle two hours of what should and could have been an enormous, three-hour movie.
Fitting, too, since “Golden Age” is ostensibly a look at the famed queen’s middle years. In what is supposed to be a period of great difficulty for her and England, much must be done. She must fight with internal powers over religious involvement, Catholics versus Protestants. War with Spain is imminent. The public questions the Queen’s lack of a male heir as Mary Queen of Scots is banking on her own son to elevate her to the throne. Most difficult of all, Elizabeth is involved in a love triangle between one of her servants and the great Sir Walter Raleigh. It’s as exhausting and crammed, yet loosely connected, as this last paragraph.
It’s hard to distinguish the fine line between prestige pictures and the over-baked parodies of themselves. They all look alike, to a certain extent, and are of wide cinematic interest – usually.
“Golden Age” becomes a clear case of the latter. Everyone speaks in a manner of utmost importance. Villains are distinguished by sleek and darkly lit presences, complete with slick hair and raised eyebrows.
Why did Shekhar Kapur, who also directed the first “Elizabeth,” even want to make this movie? Though he retains the cast and crew of his fabulous original, there’s a total gap in the material between “Golden” and its predecessor. At times incredibly boring, then completely sensational, “Golden Age” suffers from its inability to strike a tone in its narrative and stick with it.
Blanchett is back as the queen, and she brings all the thundering frailty she did before, but to no end. She shows up. She screams. She giggles. She’s basically told what to do by a psychic. Geoffrey Rush’s pseudo-Cheney aide, Sir Francis Walsingham, is the sole character of real interest in the film, and it’s only because he seems the most reflective and developed. Wise and old, even he strains under the pressures of too much subterfuge and tension.
This is not supposed to an ironic statement about political divination throughout history, or how things work. It’s just soft-baked texture that’s ultimately inconsequential. Great costumes and set design are one thing. An involving, well-told tale is another.
1.5 out of 5 stars.